City DopeNews

As Qualifying Approaches, Who’s Running for What in Athens?

Perhaps it’s the pandemic, or perhaps uncertainty over the new commission district lines, but the rumor mill regarding local elections this month didn’t start churning in earnest until a few weeks ago. However, with qualifying on the horizon, at least six candidates have now entered races for mayor and three (presumably) open commission seats.

Former commissioner Jared Bailey will look to regain the District 5 seat, which under the new Republican map includes neighborhoods north and west of Boulevard and Normaltown, such as Forest Heights, River Bottom, Homewood Hills and Country Club Estates. Incumbent Tim Denson can’t run for re-election because his home off Whitehead Road will now be in District 6, and even-numbered districts aren’t on the ballot until 2024. Bailey was generally considered a solid progressive during his four years on the commission, but Denson beat him and a third, more conservative candidate in 2016 by running to his left.

Bailey has been associated with numerous local institutions during his 45 years in Athens. He founded Flagpole and AthFest, managed the 40 Watt Club and helped organize the famous downtown Widespread Panic concert in 1998.

Also running in District 5: former UGA and current Clarke County School District administrator Dexter Fisher, and UGA librarian, living wage activist and Flagpole contributor Matthew Pulver, who is likely to be the furthest left of the three.

“We don’t need any more division. We need more bridges. Across the haves, the have mores and the have nots. Across the young and the old, the city and the country. That’s something I can do,” Fisher said during a Feb. 20 campaign speech at Ebenezer West Baptist Church. “In this season of my life, my career is in my past. I don’t need or like celebrity; I’m not running for Congress. I’m not seeking to be served. I’m seeking to serve. Let us build a bridge to a better and brighter future for everyone, together.”

Pulver described himself as “infuriated” by the Republican redistricting, which he likened to Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“As Athens grows, too many are being left behind,” Pulver said in a news release. “Too many of us can no longer afford rent or a mortgage in many parts of town. Even worse, far too many Athenians remain trapped in poverty. Racism and bigotry still shape the lives and prospects of so many Athenians. We must attack these problems head on.”

In District 7—now stretching along the Oconee County line—two candidates have emerged so far. One is Allen Jones, a Timothy Road resident who says his priorities will be poverty and income inequality, health care and protecting the environment. The other is John Culpepper, a small business owner and son of the late civic booster E.H. Culpepper, who says he wants to revamp the Beechwood commercial district and fix traffic on Timothy Road.

“Athens has undergone tremendous change over the last few decades, both good and bad. As someone who has called Athens home for 50 years I’ve had a front row seat to these changes, and I want to take our challenges on headfirst,” Culpepper said in a news release. “From working with our great law enforcement and mental health partners to address the concerning rise in both violent crime and drug overdose deaths, to connecting area businesses and civic organizations with our local schools to initiate training programs for our youth as well as helping craft creative solutions to the ongoing homelessness crisis in Athens, I will work hard every day to make a difference.”

At press time, no one has declared their candidacy in District 3, currently represented by Melissa Link, who, like Denson and District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards, was drawn out of her district by Athens’ Republican state legislators. Under the new map, most of what’s now District 3 becomes a part of Mariah Parker’s District 2, while the new District 3 stretches from East Athens to Winterville, most of which is currently part of Districts 1 and 2. 

So far, incumbent commissioners Patrick Davenport in District 1 and Ovita Thornton in District 9 have not drawn opposition. Nor have any of Athens’ state legislators, all of whom are in safe districts. And no one has stepped forward to run for school board, where incumbents Greg Davis in District 1, Kara Dyckman in District 5 and Tawana Mattox in District 9 have announced they won’t run for re-election. As with the commission, odd-numbered school board districts are on the ballot this year.

At least three candidates have said they’ll run against Mayor Kelly Girtz. Pearl Hall is a retired CCSD employee who says she wants to incorporate diversity into decision-making and support youth and the elderly. Local Republican activist Mara Zúñiga said she would formally announce her candidacy on Mar. 3.

Zúñiga, a New York City native who has lived in Athens for 15 years, said she is running “based on her growing concern for economic growth of Athens, equitable distribution of community improvement projects, transparency of expenditures, and the safety and security of Athens families and UGA students.”

In addition, the Athens Banner-Herald reported that Mykeisha Ross, a former ACC neighborhood leader who worked on District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez’s campaign, would run for mayor.

Qualifying—the period when candidates formally sign up to get their names on the ballot—starts at 8 a.m. Monday, Mar. 7 and runs through noon on Friday, Mar. 11. Check for updates.